Among the diverse community of PAPYRUS supporters, each person bears a unique connection to our cause – be it through personal struggles with suicidal thoughts, the loss of a loved one or the experience of someone in their life living with thoughts of suicide.
Peter Cowley began his journey supporting PAPYRUS in late 2022, however, his experience with suicide, grief, and loss started long before that.
To many who know Peter, they will know him for his business success, a man recognised as one of Britain’s best-known angel investors and a champion of British entrepreneurship. They will know him as an author of two – soon to be three – books, an investor of over 75 technology startups, and a founder of a further 12 technology and construction companies of his own.
But Peter’s narrative is a testament to the complexities of life – where triumphs and achievements stand in stark contrast to profound personal grief and loss.
Behind the curtains of entrepreneurial victories lie a series of events that Peter says have shaped his success today: the unexpected loss of his first wife, the passing of his sister due to alcoholism, the death of his brother at 21 due to cancer, and the reason that ties him to PAPYRUS – the loss of two of his three sons to suicide, Ian aged 23 and Alan aged 34.
Peter says: “After losing my first wife in 2006, my son Ian took his own life, almost exactly on the third anniversary of her death. It took a long time to work out where I was with that. I threw myself into doing stuff, then spent a long time trying to work out my own narrative, for me this was the why and the how.
“Alan’s death was quite different. My parents had died, and then we lost my sister to alcoholism, and that was really tough. And then, at the end of 2021, I was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, and then 10 months later was this horrendous occasion where Alan took his life.
“I was in business with him at the time; he had just gotten married a couple of years before. And while he was seeking support from therapists at the time, he was leading a happy life and contributing. He had so many positives.
“I was the last person who spoke with him that night. Everything was fine; when I was chatting with him, he was fine. I don’t know what happened that night; we will never know that.”
Following Alan’s death in October 2022, Peter, along with Alan’s wife Tasha and his eldest son Matt, decided they wanted to do something significant in their loved one’s memory. Forming a fundraising page, over the space of a couple of months, the group raised a remarkable £60,000 which was then divided among four different suicide prevention charities.
“I didn’t know about PAPYRUS until just after Alan died,” Peter says.
“Before he died, Tasha and Alan had booked to run a half marathon on Alan’s 35th birthday which was a couple of weeks after he died. We put together a GoFundMe and asked people to donate to the cause. We hadn’t decided what charities we were going to give the money to at that moment, but I found out about PAPYRUS and realised it was relevant to Alan’s death.
“We set out to raise £10,000 and instead raised £60,000 over a few months, and PAPYRUS got about half of the money.”
Since then, Peter has become an integral part of the charity, contributing not only financially through his incredible fundraising but also serving on the Finance Sub-Committee.
Speaking about why his work with PAPYRUS, as well as the various other charities he has sat on boards for, is important to him, Peter shares: “In the 90s, I developed alcoholism and lost most of that decade. Then, finally, after three attempts, I got clean in 2000, and life changed dramatically at that point. My addiction, to some extent, moved from alcohol to experiences and helping others, and that was a massive step change. I got involved with several charities, including the Citizens Advice Bureau and with Fous12 – a Drug and Alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre.
“I’ve found over the years that giving time to charities is incredibly valuable, so that’s why I work with PAPYRUS. I’ve got lots of experience in this area, which allows me to give that experience to the charity. It’s also enabled me to get close to people in PAPYRUS, so if I need any help or advice, they have been able to provide me with that and help me make sense of things that have happened. It has been extremely useful.”
Peter, who was diagnosed with terminal Stage 4c lung cancer in 2021, is now bravely penning his “final book”, Public Success, Private Grief which unveils for the first time the sequence of heartbreaking events that have defined his life, propelling his unwavering determination and ambition. Within its pages, Peter reveals his journey of finding resilience and empowerment amidst overwhelming challenges, transforming post-traumatic stress into a pathway for post-traumatic success.
Peter shares: “There’s a book in many people.
“After the first two business books, I decided I had more to give in life but hadn’t gotten around to it. When you have got late-stage cancer and limited time, you have got to be cautious about what you’re spending time on, so I hadn’t decided whether to go ahead with it, and then Alan died. After spending some time travelling after his death and getting married, I then started writing the first words for it.
“I’m not trying to make money out of this; I am trying to get people to read it. It will be a combination of a memoir and a self-help book. A memoir that people will read through it and live my life vicariously to some extent through it, but then there will be themes there and how I’ve coped through the various things that have been thrown at me.”
On losing a child to suicide, Peter adds: “It’s something nobody ever gets over losing a child. You can’t possibly get over it. Human nature as parents, you are there to procreate and support and then let them do the same. You feel like you’ve let them down when things happen in this order. But you can work through it with yourself and with others and use whatever help is available.”
Written with wife Liesbeth and addressing themes of business, alcoholism, cancer, and the anguish of loss due to suicide, a percentage of each book sold will be donated to PAPYRUS. Public Success, Private Grief will be released across Amazon on 17 April 2024 and can be pre-ordered here.